What imparts unity to his works is their dystopian, simultaneously empathetic view of people at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, his sense for the absurdity of his existence, and his feeling of dehumanization.
Born in 1957 in New Hampshire, the artist had already at the age of nineteen filled two- to three-hundred sketchbooks, and had painted a large number of completed pictures. Before moving to Cologne, he lived for a short time in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, abandoned a course of studies in art history, played in a Punk band, and worked in one of Andy Warhol's printshops. He was a close friend not only of Basquiat and Haring, but also of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. In 1985 he moved to Paris where, among other things, he polished his painting techniques in imitation of the Old Masters with the help of a certified copyist of the Louvre. Ten years later, he returned to New York, where he still lives today.
The large-format Drawing Paintings shown in the exhibition are the most recent results of his ongoing art-historical investigations. They also constitute a continuation of his Expanded Canvases from the mid-nineteen-eighties. In these new works, Condo does not focus on the visual vocabulary of the Old Masters, but instead on Abstraction, on the lines of de Kooning, the forms and colors of Matisse, Tanguy and Klee, the all-over of Pollock, and – as is unmistakably evident in the central figure of the canvas entitled Figures and Masks – again and again on Picasso. With charcoal, pastel, and acrylic, Condo designs improvisations of human consciousness which not only freshly illuminate the territory between the abstract and the figurative, but also eliminate the difference between drawing and painting. The Drawing Paintings are meditations on the freedom of color and line and on the fact that beauty and horror frequently go hand in hand.
Abstraction is not only a further visual language which Condo appropriates. What is much more the case is that in the Drawing Paintings, abstraction seems to issue a challenge to the figurative elements of his œuvre and to block their impulse to emerge upon the canvas. In such works as Compounded Figures, African Nights, and Day and Night, Condoesque grimaces, clown faces, individual eyes, breasts, and arms are woven into a dense atmosphere of charcoal lines and colored sections. Again and again, bow-tied butlers and nude, lecherously gazing figures make their fragmentary entrances into this play of color and lines – almost as if one were looking at a primal soup which already contains in nuce the entirety of Condo's œuvre. Downtown New York conveys the impression as if a human mass of art-historical hybrids were approaching the viewer at a street intersection. With Blue Nudes, Prescription for the Clinically Normal, and Comic Strip, tableaus of persons with cheerful deformation have been created. In a certain sense, the Drawing Paintings depict psychological landscapes, Condo's mental states, each compressed onto an individual canvas.
Over the course of his career, Condo has turned his attention to a variety of subjects, styles, and media. The five bronze sculptures on display in the exhibition present a further block of works to which he returns again and again. Apparent in Constructed Head, The Philosopher, and Totemic Personage is the procedure of psychological Cubism which he uses, not by combining fragments which come from different perspectives as in Cubism, but by joining fragments of various emotional and psychological states. The Sea Lion and Liquor Store Attendant refer to the manic-depressive melodrama between repulsion and seduction which is familiar from Condo's grotesque portraits. Today the conditio humana seems to the artist to be a conditio idiotica; his works are always part of a political statement. All his figures evince features of ecstasy and madness; they have become caricatures of themselves and laugh in the face of the desolateness of the world. These are damaged beings who nonetheless enjoy themselves thoroughly.
George Condo's œuvre does not derive inspiration from refined, art-historical masochism; his pictures are not quotations, pastiches, or appropriations. One must instead conceive of Condo as a collector of the languages of artistic representation, of languages whose essence he filters out through painting and reinterprets for our era. To this purpose, he systematically destroys familiar pictorial structures and demolishes the stable significatory field of the image. Condo is always concerned as well with the pleasure of painting – and with the question of how it can still be experienced today.